CFIA cuts, fewer inspectors, cause E. coli crisis: Mulcair

Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair says agriculture minister Gerry Ritz “should be booted out” for overseeing budget cuts that put food safety at risk and refusing to accept responsibility.

He used a 70-minute speech on the government budget implementation bill Oct. 24 to slam the government for trimming food inspection budgets and for bungling the E. coli incident at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta.

Mulcair said Ritz has blamed everyone but himself.

“The minister of agriculture has absolved himself of any responsibility by saying that he did not carry out the inspections,” Mulcair said.

“It is the minister who is responsible, not the inspectors. It is the minister who did not do his job and who did not ensure that the inspectors were protecting the public. He should be booted out.”

He argued that since Ritz won’t accept responsibility, prime minister Stephen Harper should.

“This is no longer a question of the incompetent minister of agriculture,” said Mulcair.

“It is a question of the prime minister who is endangering public safety by allowing him to stay in place.”

The next morning during an appearance before the House of Commons agriculture committee, Ritz denied that Canadian Food Inspection Agency funding has been cut. He said CFIA inspectors should have been tougher in demanding information and testing records from XL.

The plant closing and recall of potentially contaminated beef in Canada was delayed several weeks because of a lack of data, he added.

Mulcair said that unlike the U.S. system in which inspectors inspect, “the Conservatives have a self-reporting system” for food inspection.

Ritz later said that is a misunderstanding of how the inspection system works.

Meanwhile, former agriculture minister Ralph Goodale used his Oct. 25 budget debate speech to condemn changes the government is proposing to the Canada Grain Act and the powers of the Canadian Grain Commission.

“The trend that is evident in this bill is a trend toward making the whole grain commission process voluntary, optional and entirely at the farmer’s expense,” the Liberal MP said. “We think that trend is wrong.”

Goodale said that by reducing the grain commission’s role and eliminating the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, “the government is in the process of putting prairie agriculture back to about 1910.”

Ritz said critics who suggest grain standards will be reduced misrepresent the legislation.

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